Cartilage is a type of connective tissue consisting of cells called
chondrocytes and a tough, flexible matrix made of collagen, protein, and sugar.
Most cartilage is converted to bone as an animal matures, but some cartilage
remains in the nose and ears, as well as joints such as the knees, hips,
shoulders, and fingers.
Bovine cartilage (cartilage derived from cows) and shark cartilage have been
investigated for many years as treatments for cancer, psoriasis, arthritis, and
a number of other medical conditions. The interest in cartilage as a treatment
for cancer arose, at least in part, from the mistaken belief that sharks (whose
skeletons consist primarily of cartilage) are not affected by cancer. This
assumption proved to be untrue, however, and studies in humans have yet to
demonstrate that shark cartilage reverses, prevents, or even slows cancerous
Claims that cartilage may be of some medical value date back to 1954.
Laboratory and animal studies have shown that substances in cartilage
(particularly shark cartilage) may reduce inflammation associated with arthritis
(including rheumatoid arthritis), stimulate the immune system, and relieve pain.
Whether these beneficial properties apply to people has not been proven in
scientific studies. Cartilage does appear to provide some benefits for the
following health conditions:
Preliminary evidence suggests that extracts of shark cartilage may reduce
inflammation from psoriasis (a skin disorder that appears as raised,
reddish-pink areas covered with silvery scales and red borders).
Two components of cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin (although not
specifically cartilage supplements), have been shown to decrease pain, improve
range of motion, reduce swelling, enhance walking pace, and slow the progression
of osteoarthritis. Further studies are currently underway to determine if these
supplements are safe and effective when taken for long periods of time.
Despite a lack of substantial scientific evidence, shark cartilage has also
been widely touted as a treatment for cancer. Because cartilage cells do not
have any blood vessels, some researchers speculate that they produce substances
that inhibit blood vessel formation. Cancerous tumors rely on blood vessels to
survive because blood provides oxygen and nutrients necessary for their growth.
The possibility that cartilage could the formation of blood vessels and "starve"
cancerous tumors of necessary oxygen and nutrients has led to theories regarding
the use of this supplement for cancer.
Although many studies have been conducted on cartilage as a treatment for
cancer, only a few have been published in scientific journals and none have
shown any benefit in using cartilage supplements for cancer (including breast,
colon, lung, prostate, brain, and lymphoma). According to the National Cancer
Institute (NCI), the evidence so far is inconclusive regarding the effectiveness
of cartilage as a cancer treatment in humans. In fact, the NCI halted their own
research regarding cartilage supplementation because all of the preparations
were contaminated and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken legal action
against several companies selling cartilage products as a "cancer cure."
Cartilage is not available through dietary sources. It can only be obtained
though commercial preparations.
Cartilage is available in powdered form or in capsules that contain the
powder. It is also available as a topical cream.
How to Take It
Cartilage should not be taken by children.
Most manufacturers' labels list a dosage of 750 mg three to four times per
Because of the potential for side effects and possible interactions with
medications, dietary supplements should only be taken only under the supervision
of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Shark and/or bovine cartilage should always be purchased from a reputable
manufacturer to reduce the risk of contamination.
Labels should be checked carefully. Only supplements that contain 100% pure
shark cartilage should be purchased.
Cartilage supplements should always be white. Products of any other color
could indicate contamination and should therefore be avoided.
Shark cartilage products often have a strong fish odor and flavor which can
be unpleasant. Large doses may cause nausea.
There has been at least one case of hepatitis reported from taking shark
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and individuals recovering from
surgery and/or a heart attack should not take cartilage supplements.
Cartilage should never be used as a substitute for conventional treatments.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use cartilage supplements without first talking to your healthcare
Cartilage contains high amounts of calcium. Thiazide diuretics, such as
hydrochlorothiazide, can raise calcium levels in the blood. Therefore, using
cartilage supplements together with this type of diuretic could lead to
dangerously high levels of calcium.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; Margie Ullmann-Weil, MS, RD,
specializing in combination of complementary and traditional nutritional
therapy, Boston, MA. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team
of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine
Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients,
Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical
Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your
Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000),
President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine,
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